Democrats campaigned on the issue of criminal justice reform last year. But advocates say when they took power in the House and Senate, a lot of reform still got left behind.
The issue of expunging criminal records for minor crimes has been popular with Democrats for many years, and so when Democrats won control of the House and Senate, lots of people were finally expecting some action on that issue. But House and Senate Democrats could not agree, and the issue was sent to a study committee.
House Majority Leader Charniele Herring says she was concerned the Senate wanted to expunge convictions for alcohol and marijuana but not prostitution convictions for victims of sex trafficking.
“So those who are sex trafficked, they’re telling them you all need to wait but these other crimes we’re going to go ahead and expunge, and I did not think that was proper," she explains. "But I do think that we’re going to get expungement in Virginia. I expect it to happen next year. But I wanted to study it because I think there’s a way that we can do this to be more comprehensive.”
Senator Scott Surovell is a Democrat from Fairfax County who says proving someone was a victim of sex trafficking at the time when they were convicted of prostitution is much more complicated an issue — something he says is worth studying and doing. But he disagreed with the idea that expunging records for alcohol and marijuana convictions of people under the age of 21 should wait.
“There are thousands of people out there that have dismissed charges following them around the rest of their lives, and there’s a lot of people who could benefit from doing something about it right now," Surrovell says. "The human trafficking piece affects a much, much, much smaller group of people, and a lot of us saw the need to move fast on the alcohol and marijuana stuff.”
When lawmakers return to Richmond next year, they may be facing much more public pressure to take action on criminal justice reform.